LOS ANGELES — Stephen Curry sat on the Warriors bench, legs aching and mind finally settling on the reality of the night — no travel until June, no pointing a ring finger at the shell-shocked crowd.
Instead, it was the up-and-down roar of the Crypto.com Arena crowd, who were finally able to celebrate a deep playoff run with their Los Angeles Lakers in 2020 at a venue outside the Disney-sanctioned bubble.
The champions ran out of time, out of body and out of answers in their series-concluding 122-101 Game 6 loss to the Lakers on Friday night.
It was over before LeBron James had his best game of the playoffs, putting the final touches on what Anthony Davis and others had started.
It was over before Austin Reeves warmed up with a last-second half-court shot to send the crowd into halftime delirium.
It was over before the weary chumps walked into the building, hoping to find a signature night somewhere in that locker room to push the series into a deciding seventh game.
It was probably over in the preseason.
The evening seemed to sum up their entire season: absorbing an early blow in the opening minutes, clawing their way back to respectability, then taking another shot before teetering on the edge of all-out disaster.
In the end, it was clear that the champions ran out of gas as Curry – the best position athlete in the NBA, by all accounts – was worn down by the relentless Lakers, shooting just 25.6% from 3-point range over the past three games. of this series.
The night showed the underrated quality of this group of warriors throughout the ages. Branded as front-runners who can outmaneuver and outplay talent opponents, they are the most resilient group this league has offered in decades.
Torn by internal forces in and out of the locker room, they have at times mounted improbable comebacks, sapped momentum from teams and confidence from opposing buildings.
The 3-1 jokes of 2016 are all well and good, but they pulled themselves out of a 3-1 hole right before that, and even in years they fell short, they gave the eventual winners all they could handle. .
It was the first year the final was decisive and left no doubt the damage that had been done – and there is work to be done if this run is to extend beyond the present.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “I dropped my guys off in the locker room and you could see it in their eyes, just a combination of fatigue and frustration.” “And they think at the same time, just a level of you know we really gave it a push. They're champions for a reason.
They looked tired — even more tired than their 2019 season, their last with Kevin Durant. During that run, Kerr acknowledged organizational fatigue in “The Last Dance” reminiscent of the Chicago Bulls. He made no such statement this time, believing that more victories are around the corner.
Curry had more responsibility on his slender shoulders than any other through this run, and it wasn't that he wasn't up to the task. He had to cobble up the team after the Draymond Green incident with Jordan Poole in training camp, manage his own injuries that caused him to miss a portion of the season, and handle Andrew Wiggins' long absence. The second was the usual task of defending the title after a firefight in different rooms in a very decorated house.
The fact that many were afraid to write off this team despite what our eyes told us says everything about the worldwide respect and fear Curry can do every night, weekly, every June. .
This team won nine road games and hardly anyone would fix their mouth tightly to bet against it.
Kerr said, “I think we found ourselves down the stretch and in the first round of the playoffs.” “And to be fair, I think this team is probably maxed out eventually.”
In this series he and James swapped fictions and realities: James was the man with strength in numbers, while Curry was the one who stood alone.
While it's doubtful that Curry will find James' favor, he can certainly take a page from James – who pushes the buttons of authority around him, asks for more help, more stars. And if that plan doesn't work, Then press the big, red eject button to fully launch it.
James doesn't take anything for granted, even when his hands are on the throttle, and sooner or later, ownership and management are set to make the move. Those moves put the Lakers in the unlikely position of advancing to the NBA Finals after a 2-10 start should the Lakers succumb to the pressure of the game and the title-worthy Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.
Davis is a Laker because of James, and Davis was the best player in the series, a two-way force to pressure James to use his own in fits and spurts.
Curry's splash brother, Klay Thompson, left him feeling like an only child after his disastrous series. Thompson, who is set for an extension this summer, missed open shot after open shot – his legs looking dead after playing every other day for nearly a month.
And that doesn't miraculously go away with summer vacation and getting older. Same with Green, who wants to be a Warriors “for life” and has his own potential free agency to consider this summer.
Poole's big deal doesn't start until next season, but his struggles in the playoffs, especially in this series where he had all the runway to make things his own, can't be ignored. If the Warriors are serious about maintaining Curry's standard built on sweat equity, his future should at least be on the table.
Four titles is probably enough for Warriors owner Joe Lacob, who has enough to make not only roster but financial decisions with chief executive decision maker Bob Myers, who will be a free agent of his own this summer.
It is easy to understand that the Warriors exceeded their own supply coming into the season, as they refused to take advantage of their small pieces for proven vets to strengthen themselves in an attempt to repeat.
Little did they know that the Western Conference would be shaken in the way that it certainly seemed that the region was wide open to those who had the courage to step up for now as opposed to obsessing over the future. .
And with a more restrictive luxury-tax cap that will prevent big-spending teams from digging deep into their coffers, it will be harder to maintain, let alone improve, with vets who want to be paid what they've done and Have done, still hope to do.
“This is not a championship team,” said Kerr. “You know, if we were, we would be moving forward. So you can look at the year and overall and see all the ups and downs, and there's all kinds of things that went on and adversities, but a group a Stayed together and competed together and had a great run.
They did it on the back of Curry, with his historic 50-point game against Sacramento to propel them into the second round. As he turns 36 for next season's playoff run, his greatness is matched by his organization – with no blame other than winning.
“That's the hope,” Curry told Yahoo Sports after his news conference. “The way the season ended, it's disappointing, but it's also an opportunity to understand that it can be fixed.
“I'm serious about trying to win a championship. If we're not doing that, that's when the questions start to arise. You can't win it every year, but you want to be in a position to be a serious contender.” Eight, you can retreat and come back.
The Final Eight will be cause for celebration for a lot of franchises. At one point, this was the case for the Warriors.
But the last eight just isn't good enough, and Curry may need to roar to make his presence felt.
“I'm active, always have been,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “Not out loud about it, but I always am.”
The giant building on the water in San Francisco wouldn't even exist without his wizardry, or Green or Thompson – Kerr and Myers. It's easy to think that outfits win championships, but that exclusivity can't be bottled, sold, or duplicated.
“Yeah, the clock is ticking,” said Green. “I think you know when you have that much success, people like to get it, really put you on that clock. For us, we don't pay attention to the clock. We just work and Try to win every year.
One image is from Friday night, when Curry was dribbling and probing, trying to find an opening between the Lakers' defense to make a stop. The Warriors were down big, but you couldn't tell from the way Curry was going for it.
He had never looked so tired, yet he was so determined to do something.
“That's a great way to put it,” Curry told Yahoo Sports. “That's the best way to put it.”